ST. MARY'S COLLEGE 24 OLD BELVEDERE 23, Templeville Road
Scorers: St. Mary's College: Tries: Mark Sexton, Stephen Grissing; Con: Gavin Dunne; Pens: Gavin Dunne 3; Drop: Gavin Dunne
Old Belvedere: Tries: Richie Leyden, Chris Keane; Cons: Conal Keane 2; Pens: Andy Dunne, Conal Keane 2
It was an exciting and closely-fought game of rugby that could have gone either way, but St. Mary's excellent second half display, which saw them garner two tries, was ultimately the deciding factor.
Indeed, Old Belvedere had the better of the play in the first half but just could not breach the try-line and found themselves 9-3 down ahead at half-time.
This Dublin derby took place amid near perfect conditions at a packed and sunsplashed Templeville Road, with the likes of Jonathan Sexton, a brother of current St. Mary's centre Mark Sexton, and Victor Costello and Malcolm O'Kelly, two heroes from the last St. Mary's side to lift the AIB League title in 2000, mingling with the crowd.
Another link to that 2000 team, hooker Peter Smyth is now the Saints' director of rugby and he was delighted to see his side finish off the league campaign with four successive Division 1A victories. Old Belvedere topped the Division 1B table, having amassed eleven wins in 14 games.
'Belvo flanker Jason Risdon almost left St. Mary's blushing in the first minute of the match when he intercepted a sluggish pass and was just inches from making the try-line before Australian out-half Shaun McCarthy got back to make the tackle.
'Belvo, despite being in the lower division side, took the game to the Saints right away, putting in big hits and asking numerous questions of their opponents' defence.
Notably, the efficient ball-carrying 'Belvo pack was a constant menace for St. Mary's on the fringes of rucks with number 8 Leo Auva'a and flanker Jonathan Slattery making some good runs.
But St. Mary's, marshalled by inspirational captain Hugh Hogan, defended astutely and guarded their try-line bravely in the first half.
'Belvo captain and player-coach Andy Dunne made his mark on the match in the third minute with a straight forward penalty, but the hosts were level three minutes later with impressive full-back Gavin Dunne converting a 35-metre penalty.
McCarthy, very much the Mary's tactician, was keen to keep the ball moving through hands as opposed to taking the kicking option. Centres Stephen Grissing and Mark Sexton seemed more than happy to feed off McCarthy's clever offloads, breaking the gain-line regularly.
Gavin Dunne, who scored 19 points against Clontarf last week, was once again magnificent with his place-kicking, converting four out of five as well as scoring a drop goal.
With the loss of Andy Dunne to ankle ligament damage in the 37th minute, 'Belvo were struck with a devastating blow and had to slot centre Conal Keane in at out-half with replacement Kevin Barden joining the midfield.
This did not seem to phase 'Belvo as they made a magnificent start to the second half, scoring two penalties through Keane and a nicely-taken Richie Leyden try.
St. Mary's did not have the fringes covered at a ruck and New Zealander Auva'a took the initiative to break through and made a nice offload to supporting lock Leyden who finished under the posts. Keane slotted the conversion to make it 16-9.
Smyth's charges, realising they were losing their grip on this semi-final, eventually stepped up a gear. Winger Darragh Fanning came desperately close to scoring their first try but he was deemed to have been held up over th line.
The resulting five-metre scrum set the platform for Sexton to score the breakthrough try for the Saints. Coming onto McCarthy's skip pass at pace, the centre used his power to make it over the line past two defenders.
Dunne's conversion from the left put the teams level at 16-16, although television replays suggested that the kick may have drifted wide of the right-hand post.
The score stood, however, and this set the scene for a gripping final quarter. St. Mary's took a three-point lead through a terrific drop goal from the in-form Dunne, but 'Belvo's Leinster scrum half Chris Keane gave his side the edge again after a clever dummy and sidestep allowed him to touch down behind the posts in the 68th minute.
But, with five minutes to go and the home side pressurising the 'Belvo line, the ball was worked out to Grissing on the right wing and he had a clear run to the line.
That was the decisive score, ending 'Belvo's hopes of a place in the final at Dubarry Park on Saturday, May 8.
ST. MARY'S COLLEGE: Gavin Dunne; Ronan Doherty, Stephen Grissing, Mark Sexton, Darragh Fanning; Shaun McCarthy, Conor McPhillips; Jack McGrath, Richard Sweeney, Robert Sweeney, Gareth Logan, Robin Copeland, Damian Hall, Paul Nash, Hugh Hogan (capt).
Replacements used: Conor Donohoe for Sexton (37 mins-half-time, blood sub), Stephen Bradshaw for Logan (50), Barry O’Flanagan for Damien Hall, Gavin Hickie for Richard Sweeney (both 79).
OLD BELVEDERE: Eddie Devitt; Derek Keane, Conal Keane, John Kennedy, David Mongan; Andy Dunne (capt), Chris Keane; Vinnie Soden, Mark Cooney, Stewart Maguire, Richie Leyden, Paul Spivey, Jonathan Slattery, Jason Risdon, Leo Auva'a.
Replacements used: Kevin Barden for Dunne (37 mins), Kieran Hurrell for Devitt (40), Alan Trenier for Spivey, Tom Sexton for Cooney (both 68).
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)